I love writing about the “stuff you don’t think about” when it comes to life as a musician, but in this ongoing series, I wanted to investigate something a little different: those who aren’t classical musicians, but studied it enough to reap the benefits in other aspects of lives.
One reason I chose this topic is very basic: “studying classical music is good for you” and while that’s a given, I wanted to personalize why. The other reason was to sort out my own personal experience with studying music to a certain level, which sometimes conflicted with my knowledge I didn’t want to be a performer. I didn’t realize the advantages until much later.
In this ongoing series, posted every week or so, I’ll be speaking with doctors, lawyers, marketing professionals, accountants, actors, arts administrators, and people in all kinds of fields who studied classical music and are thankful they did. I’ll keep this going until I run out of participants.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. Today, let’s meet Bonnie Kawchuk, Ed.M, Women’s Leadership Coach and Founder of The Leading Voice LLC .
Please summarize your current career, and your duties.
I help women develop a Leading Voice —to value their points of view, to voice their points of view and to expand their points of view. I own a firm called The Leading Voice, which offers women’s leadership development programs, primarily at global corporations, for high potential leaders to senior executives. In addition to managing The Leading Voice, I design and deliver group learning experiences, executive coaching, and keynote addresses. I love my work!
What instrument(s) did you study, and at what stage in your life?
I started piano lessons around 6 years old, voice at 9 years old, violin a year later, and organ in junior high school. Violin was the only short-term instrument, possibly because my brothers would beg me to stop practicing. As part of my music degree in voice, I discovered choral conducting—my true love. There is something holy about choral singing, and to lead it, is divine.
Were music lessons intended as a hobby or did you have a performing career in mind?
Music lessons were a thing we did in my family. My mother’s family was musical, and lessons probably grew out of my parents’ desire to provide something they never had as children. A career in music? It never crossed my mind.
Was quitting your music lessons a welcome relief or a complete heart-wrenching moment of reckoning?
Neither, though I certainly felt the void when I finished my music degree. Life without weekly lessons? What’s that? I quickly filled the void by resuming private lessons.
There was one heart-wrenching moment that transpired years after I had stopped performing and teaching. I sat down at a piano and fumbled around the keyboard, feeling little control over my fingers. I had forgotten the language. I cried at the loss of technique and the waste of many years of study. I thought of my parents, and all they had invested in my music education—the money, the countless hours of driving me to lessons and sitting through recitals.
But as you know – it wasn’t all for naught! How did your classical music studies (and music theory, if you studied that too) impact your ability to do your job today?
My musical training hasn’t just helped me do my job, it helped create my job. My career in leadership development grew out of my work with women and voice. I noticed a pattern develop while teaching women to sing. Technical proficiency is only one part of singing lessons. Another part is about “getting out of your own way.” It’s about a willingness to risk and release that which holds you back. When my female students reached a point of freeing their singing voices, new behaviors emerged. Each student in turn started living out ideas she had been holding within. One student signed up for a marathon. Another moved across the world to produce a documentary film. Another went back to work. Each one embodied her voice and sense of self with more certainty. I wanted to take an aspect of voice work into a more accessible form of training. That is when I closed my music studio and went to Harvard to study the connections between women’s development, voice, and leadership development. That was 20 years ago.
Music education offers a long list of life skills: perseverance, discipline, focus, time management, problem solving, collaborative skills, and stage presence. I attribute my own listening skills and capacity for focus to my performing arts training.
Is classical or music in general (playing, listening, attending concerts, getting your kids to practice) a part of your life today? If not, do you think you’ll return to it?
Yes, though certainly not as much as I would like for myself or for my daughter. I on-again-off-again sing in a local choir, fumble around the piano, introduce a variety of musical genres (recorded and live) to my daughter, and have taught a “Mommy and Me” style music class for my daughter and her toddler friends. I have discovered that it is as equally meaningful to me that my daughter witness me in a musical role as it is for me to witness her dance, sing and enthusiastically drum. Music education is a core part of my identity. Not to know this aspect of me is not to know the whole of me.
Want to share your experience how studying classical music shaped your life and career?